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Bye Or Cell? Two Penn State Teams, Two Double Bye Scenarios

While one group is imprisoned by their own success, the other hopes to gain some much needed time off.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten conference tournaments for both hockey and basketball are right around the corner. Guy Gadowsky’s team secured the Big Ten regular season championship on Friday night and with it, the team will receive a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Pat Chambers and the Penn State basketball team have two games to play and remain in the hunt for both the regular season conference title and also a coveted double bye in the B1G tournament.

In many ways it has been the best season in Penn State hockey’s short program history, but whether it goes down as the greatest-ever remains to be seen. The team has won the conference tournament before and also has one NCAA tournament win under its belt. It could easily top those achievements in the coming weeks, so long as it is ready to go when the puck drops again.

The issue for the hockey team, who had a bye in the final week of the season due to a scheduling quirk, is that there may be more time off than wanted. Now that it has a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the team will sit on ice for twenty days before it hosts a semi-final game on March 14. Were the team to lose, it would then sit for two more weeks before the NCAA tournament. That would be just one game in more than a month leading up to the big dance.

The hockey team is led by a group of seniors that has transformed the program from an upstart to a national powerhouse. If any squad can handle the adversity of sitting idle, that team can. The basketball team is in a completely different position, wanting a double bye in the worst way.

Big Ten Positioning

There are eight basketball teams playing on Sunday and two of them are playing for the top spot in the conference. Wisconsin and Illinois are both 11-6 in Big Ten play and could run the table to get to 14 wins. That would be enough to pass Maryland. The Lions, with two wins to close out the season, could end up tied for first place with a number of teams. Were Pat Chambers’ team to end up tied with either Maryland or Michigan State at 13 wins, it would hold the tie-breaker over each team.

Since the Lions have lost the only game played against both Wisconsin and Illinois, they do not hold the tie-breaker against those teams. If multiple teams end up tied for a seed position, those teams’ record against the fellow tied teams determines the seeding. So looking ahead, it would be best for the Badgers and Illini to stay out of such ties with the Lions, since their record is 0-2 against them.

That being said, the only realistic chance that the Penn State team has to win the Big Ten conference tournament, or to finish in the top-4 to get into a double-bye position, is to beat Michigan State. Sure, certain scenarios exist with the Lions losing to MSU and then beating Northwestern, getting to 12 wins in conference and then edging out other teams with a tie-breaker for the fourth spot.

Due to the multiple-team tie breaker and the 0-2 record against Illinois and Wisconsin, the best scenario for the Lions to tie-break their way into a double-bye with 12 wins would be if those two teams finished in the top-3, and the tie-breaker was to settle the fourth position. In that circumstance, Penn State holds the edge over MSU, Michigan and in a four-way tie including Iowa, Pat Chambers’ team would still get the fourth spot and double bye.

The best way for the team to get the most desirable outcome would be to win both of its remaining games. There are 6 teams that can still get to 13 wins in conference play, but chances are only 4 will do so. If just 2 teams are tied for a seeding position, the tie-breaker is those teams’ record against the top finisher. With a 1-0 record against Maryland, in that scenario, it would be best for the Lions were the Terrapins to win the conference.

There remains hope for the basketball team to accomplish something it has never done, winning the regular season Big Ten title. The hockey team just made room inside the Pegula Ice Arena for such a banner. Now as Guy Gadowsky’s squad sits idle, Pat Chambers’ group is fighting hard for a couple of days off in the conference tournament.

It should be a very intense game on Tuesday night against the Spartans. If the Lions can win they will travel to Northwestern with a chance to gain a significant advantage in the Big Ten tournament. Due to a tiny scheduling advantage, Penn State will finish the season a day earlier than 8 conference foes. Unlike the hockey team, the basketball side can use all of the rest that it can get.

Rooting Interests

It’s still a little early to know which teams the Lions might end up needing to lose in order to win a tie-breaker or seeding position. Today will reveal a great amount of information. There are 4 games played and 3 of them directly impact the race at the top of the standings. Northwestern and Nebraska play in a battle of the lowest-ranked teams that only their closest friends and family will care to watch.

The other three games will be highly contested. Two games feature teams that have conference title hopes on the line. The middle game with the Wolverines and Buckeyes is for positioning and both sides are playing good ball at the end of the season, hoping to wipe out some struggles they had early on.

On Tuesday the Lions will play what could be a season-defining game at home, the final chance fans will get to see Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens play at the Bryce Jordan Center. With the return of Myreon Jones, the Lions have additional depth and firepower. It took everything they had to beat the Spartans in East Lansing, including 6 of 8 shooting from 3-point range by Jones. At home, with a supportive crowd on senior night, we could be in for a real treat.